STEADY’S ‘space race’ is over – but his music continues.
FROM THE MUPPETS TO MAHLER, Leicester’s Matt Steady has always listened to ‘something’ which perhaps explains why his musical output remains not only so varied, but also prodigious.
And now, turning his back on his science career – a masters in physics with space science and technology – he earns his living through his first love, music.
“I’m an independent musician now, if I don’t create, we don’t eat!” he said. “The albums bring in some income and sharing the creation process with my little community on Patreon brings in another chunk.”
Steady was born into a world of music, a world full of sound which undoubtedly influenced his later years.
“There was always music in our household when I was growing up, whether it be Louis Armstrong, Mahler or The Muppets! Every car journey had a cassette playing – or the England cricket team generally losing every game I can remember.
“Church was full of singing, guitars and of course the brass band of the Salvation Army. Singing wasn’t really something you had lessons on, it was just part of everyday life. My Dad was an excellent classical pianist, and while I never quite got to his level, I did get pretty good by the time I left secondary school. Violin I was better at though, and I was heading towards Diploma level before university came crashing in, leaving lessons in the dust.
“While I think I mostly enjoyed playing violin and piano, it wasn’t really a choice – probably a good thing – and the learning was very prescriptive. No improvisation, no jazz/blues, nothing except the rigid notes on a page. My antidote to this was to pick up guitar when I was about 12, acoustic first, then electric. I found to my delight no-one told me what to play, I could pick along with the radio and my records and do whatever I wanted! And of course, along with this I discovered blues, rock, prog, metal, folk, and everything in-between.”
With his recent output covering blues, folk, Celtic instrumentals, and rock among others, it would be folly to describe Steady’s true genre but suffice to say his sound is gritty, authentic and full of emotion.
His first album contained many styles and despite not bringing the anticipated fame and fortune, proved a valuable lesson in music management and self-promotion for the aspiring musician.
“Once I’d written and recorded a bunch of songs, I decided to make an album,” he added. “Looking back, I was incredibly naive. The album sounded great to be fair, and while it really is a mishmash of genres and styles with nothing bringing the songs together, it is something I’m still proud of. But I released it and had a whole bunch of CDs made up and somehow assumed people would buy them, but I have no idea who. It seems quite funny now!
“Reviews of the album were good, and I had a lot of people message me telling me they enjoyed it and that it spoke to them, but it hardly took the world by storm. But it did make me realise an audience wasn’t going to come to me, I had to go out and meet people.
“And so I did. I spent a good chunk of time every day making friends with people, in ‘real life’ and on social media – Twitter mostly – introducing people to my music when they were ready.”
Speaking of Twitter, I asked Matt how it was remotely possible an independent musician could attract almost 160,000 followers – a figure significantly higher than many mainstream musicians.
“Hah! Well, I’ve worked extremely hard every day for five years to get those followers. Independent musicians don’t generally magically get a following. You must go out and make connections one at a time with other people.
“I make friends on Twitter with as many people as I possibly can and talk to them. I talk to so many people you wouldn’t believe! Some of them find my music isn’t their cup of tea, others love it and share it with their friends. But a good proportion of the connections I have has been because of a conscious effort to make a connection. Twitter is brilliant in that regard, but yes 160k is the product of a lot of hard work rather than become some viral internet sensation – that hasn’t happened in the slightest!”
And after the release of that varied debut album, a different approach was taken for the follow up.
“I found I had enough people interested in it so I was able to crowdfund it. At the same time, I’d left my permanent work in IT, and decided that it was now or never. If I didn’t attempt to do music fulltime, I’d always look back and think that was the chance I missed. So I’ve ended up being a musician. It doesn’t pay well, and it’s not easy at all. But it’s wonderful doing something you love. I’ve gigged, I’ve recorded, I’ve done a lot of remote session work. I’ve worked with some amazing musicians.
“All of it is great fun, although some of it is more conducive to paying the bills than others! I have a Patreon channel where I share my music as and when I’m writing it, lots of sneak previews, behind the scenes videos and the like. This is one of the favourite things I do as a musician, letting people into my world, showing them that music doesn’t magically come perfect and sparkling into the cosmos, but is crafted, often painfully, one word and one note at a time. None of the steps in the process are beyond anyone – I am at pains to show I believe anyone can do this if they put enough time and energy into it.”
Happily Steady’s appetite for music shows no sign of diminishing with another release scheduled for the early part of the New Year.
“I’m going back to basics and the next album will be acoustic songs recorded in an intimate setting with friends and family. I’ve done the rock and blues and folk and I want to strip it all back and show I can write some quality songs and engage and audience. It should be February or March I imagine by the time I get it organised!”
Apart from his solo recordings, Steady also performs with ‘The Grace Machine,’ a group who have recently released their ‘New Buryin’ Ground’ album.
“The Grace Machine is me on guitar and vocals, Terl Bryant on drums and Matt Weeks on bass,” he added.
“I play a lot of different instruments – pretty much everything you hear on my records is me except for drums. I’ve always got a good drummer to work on my projects with me. I started working on a very folky album ‘Chasing Down Wolves’ and felt my usual drummer, although superb, would not be the right feel. I needed earthy, Celtic, world percussion.
“And so through a mutual friend I teamed up with Terl Bryant who played percussion in one of my favourite bands, Iona, so to be able to use him as a session musician was a real thrill. I also teamed up with him for my ‘lockdown’ album, ‘Celtic Instrumentals.’
“But the next album was completely different: rocky blues with a gospel edge. When I shared it with him with a view to him playing, he asked whether I’d consider releasing it as a band album with him – and be asked to do that by one of your heroes is quite something.
“He is good friends with a superb bass player, Matt Weeks, who replaced my slightly more mediocre efforts, and by the time we finished, ‘New Buryin’ Ground’ sounded incredible. We are aiming to start another project next year, which I’m very much looking forward to.”
Finally, if you’re drawn to explore Steady’s huge back catalogue, I asked what four tracks he’d put on any potential, ‘Best Of’ EP.
“Oh man, that is the toughest question you can ever ask a musician, my favourites change like the wind! But here’s a few that cross my mind today: ‘The Roamer,’ ‘The Green Man,’ ‘Long Road Home,’ and ‘The Waiting.’ *
“I’m also quite partial to ‘When the Sun Goes Down,’ but that’s released under ‘The Grace Machine’ so might not count!
“I’ve seen music change lives over and over again, including my own. I’ve had music profoundly change my life, bringing me through some really rough times. If I can help someone else do the same, it’s worth it.”
* The Roamer, The Green Man and The Long Road Home are included on Matt Steady’s ‘The Echoes Remain’ compilation CD, available from: https://mattsteady.com